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Departmental Colloquium: Children's and adults' causal judgments consider what should have happened

Jonathan Kominsky portrait
Wednesday, December 1, 2021, 5:00 pm – 6:30 pm

When adults make judgments about whether event A caused event B to happen, we don’t just think about events that actually occurred. We consider what could or would have happened, but we especially seem to think about what should have happened. I will present a 'norm-weighted counterfactual sampling' account of causal judgment: When making causal judgments, people consider the necessity and sufficiency of a cause on the basis of the counterfactual possibilities they consider, and they tend to consider possibilities that conform more to their ideas about what should ‘normally’ happen. However, while this account explains a number of otherwise surprising patterns of causal judgments in adults, it relies on rich counterfactual reasoning, which past work has found children struggle with. I will go over recent work exploring how children’s causal judgments compare to adults, and in particular why children’s judgments and reasoning might be more similar to adults’ than they first appear.